Godisnowhere’s first ever guest post…
The other day I mentioned to a friend that I was struggling to see the ‘necessity’ of God because even without a belief in God I wouldn’t want to love others any less. She just gave me a blank look as if I had no point. ‘Of course you can love others without a belief in God…’
We love because our common humanity is enough
We have enough reason to love others based on our common humanity and not wanting to see another suffer. As humans we are relational. We have the capacity to love. Do we “need” God in order to feel compassion towards fellow human beings that are suffering, to have our hearts broken for pain that others are going through?
We can use this common humanity to be compelled to live a life of love, without the ‘need’ for scripture or ‘God’ as a prerequisite to do so. We should love because we want to love. Do we need any more compulsion? And if we need any more compulsion to do so, is it genuinely love?
Doesn’t it just make sense?
I have found great inspiration in Christian traditions such as hospitality, simplicity, community, reconciliation and welcome. But do we ‘need’ a belief in God to understand that these traditions are incredible? I am not sure if I firmly believe God is ‘in’ them, yet I still would use them as the foundation for the kind of life that I want to pursue. I would struggle to think of many people who would disagree that these things are in some sense ‘good’.
One of these ideas is ‘Community’, which is the big word in many Christian circles. I recently went to a talk which described that our desire for community was “because of the trinity”. He explained that this is where we get our model of how to be in relationships with others. I think it would be impossible to claim that the Christian tradition has a monopoly on the idea of ‘community’. I think it is a great idea to have different generations ‘doing life’ together, in comparison to the individualistic and isolated way that many of us lead our lives today. But I don’t think that a desire for community is rooted in a complex theological concept. We are relational beings who desire love, interaction and support.
And is God an essential idea by which to be united around in a community? If a ‘Christian’ community is bound by love, why is that limited to those who would identity with the Christian tradition? This rigid separation can often serve to build the barriers and ‘otherness’ that the idea of community can break down. I cannot understand why I could not equally find inspiration of love in other contexts, people, traditions, faiths. I would therefore advocate a community that is united by a desire to live a life of hospitality, simplicity, community, reconciliation and welcome, than one which is united because of shared belief in a doctrine.
Is it “….because The Bible said”
Whilst there are many inspirational verses in scripture, often quoted to encourage a life of compassion and love, perhaps this is merely cherry-picking verses that back up our own idea of what is ‘good’ , based on our own liberal egalitarian society. Is this just tagging the Bible onto our own preferences, context or culture and onto things that we already believe to be ‘good’? And hence we make God into who we want ‘him’ to be. Loving. Peaceful. Good.
If we are relying on scriptures to stimulate our hearts to love then I fear this is a dangerous path to go down, for what else will we rely on scriptures for? If we act out of love because it is in scripture, then what stops us from following other ‘less loving’ aspects of scripture? This can lead to blind obedience to scripture, with blinkers onto our own intuition and reason. Isn’t it enough to have your heart broken with the sadness of the suffering of others, than searching to find a verse that compels us to love. I often hear people, including myself in the past, proudly proclaim that they are serving the poor “because Jesus did”. But is that the ‘real’ reason? Whilst this might be a naive and simplistic statement to make, could it not just be because we actually just want to help?
The other day a friend shared this verse with me, “In Christ, there is neither Male nor Female, Slave nor Free, Jew nor Gentile, Christian nor non-Christian”. I love the radical egalitarian nature of this verse. I also love a lot of other verses in the Bible. But are they necessary to live more justly, break down barriers and love one another? I think that there is a level of reason in treating people as you would like to be treated by virtue of being a human to whom you can sympathise with.
I could have equally been offered a verse that focuses on judgement and sin, as others have chosen to focus on. When we use the Bible to back things up, we don’t only get abolitionists like Wilberforce, or the simplicity of Francis of Assisi or the love of mother Teresa, but we get white supremacists using the Bible to justify slavery and colonialism, we get Ugandan priests using it to persecute homosexuals, we get Zionists using it to justify superiority over Palestinians and we get it to back up brutal violence of The Lord’s Resistance Army.
This is the issue I have with the use of verses to back things up.
Whilst there are so many incredibly inspiring verses, parables and imagery in The Bible, it often seems to back up what people already want. It’s an easy way of adding credence to your cause, for justifying an action you think anyway, to legitimise an opinion, whether it be a call to give up your possessions to the poor, or a call to go on a violent 12th century crusade.
It is often an obstacle for people to think ‘reasonably’, or think at all.
I haven’t ‘left’ Christianity because I no longer want to want to live a life of love, or to live up to it’s ‘moral standards’ any more. That’s just it, I do.